Twelfth night has come and gone- you know, that post Christmas revel that celebrates the Epiphany? Well, there is a great ancient tradition that goes along with that, called “wassailing.” The idea is that you prepare a tasty beverage of spices, fruit juices, and (heaven forbid) some degree of alcohol, and toast to the health of your friends and family. Then, you go out into your orchard and do it again, toasting the trees and giving them a little drink too. In return, the forest spirits will be more inclined to show a good harvest in the coming year.
Since we have an orchard, this seemed like the thing to do. We raided the cellar and brought out a quart of our apple cider from this fall, as well as two pints of the hard cider I brewed up the season before. The sweet cider is rich, earthy, and tastes like summertime. The hard cider is naturally effervescent and awfully dry, and Emily discovered some time ago that if you mix the two, it’s delicious.
We called a few friends and met them at the orchard. Dark comes early this time of year, so we found ourselves standing outside in the misty darkness amongst two score of nearly naked trees, stepping carefully over the squishy hillocks and watching not to topple beehives scattered across the orchard. “Wassail!” someone would toast, taking a drink then pouring a bit on a tree. “Be thou hale!” another would exclaim, following suit with the next. We proceeded that way across the field, tending our orchard as the ancients did.
I present to you a portion of the lyrics to “Here We Come A- Wassailing,” a Christmas carol about this very thing:
Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand’ring
So fair to be seen.
And that pretty much sums up the evening.
There is even a Christmas carol about the idea